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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Obama’s Two-Front Offensive on Health Reform

This item by Ed Kilgore was originally published on February 15, 2010.
It’s been obvious for a while that in forcing congressional Republicans to attend a presidential summit on health care reform on February 25, the president is trying to place them on the horns of a dilemma: they must either admit they don’t have their own “plan,” or must advance a “plan” that could be very unpopular (viz. vouchering Medicare). More generally, Obama is trying to create a broader political context in which Americans compare the agendas of the two parties, instead of treating the November elections as an up-or-down referendum on the administration’s policies or, worse yet, on feelings about the political and economic condition of the country. The president is also seeking the deepen the growing sentiment that he’s been a lot more “bipartisan” than the opposition.
But it’s also likely that Obama is using the summit to push congressional Democrats to get their own act together before it’s too late. The formal announcement of the summit indicates that the White House will in advance post on the internet a plan that meets the administration’s criteria for reform. Here’s how Jonathan Cohn analyzes the implications of that statement:

That passage seems to suggest one of the following is true:
1) House and Senate leadership have nearly finished negotiating a new compromise version of their legislation. The text the administration plans to post will reflect that compromise.
2) House and Senate leadership are still struggling to come to an agreement, if not over what to pass then in what sequence to pass it. The administration hopes this promise will force them to wrap things up.

In other words, Obama could be engaging in a two-front offensive: forcing action by Democrats to complete or revive their own health reform negotiations, on pain of looking like fools on February 25, while compelling Republicans to choose the path of open obstruction or of perilous conservative ideology.
With the summit being just ten days away, the White House isn’t affording either party a whole lot of time to make these fateful choices. But one thing seems to be sure: by February 25, there will finally be a plan on the table that merits the much-abused term “ObamaCare.”

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